Growing Big, Staying Small

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Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. – Henry Ford

In his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International, recounts a fascinating story about attaining the kind of culture every company wants. Behar says one concept that he learned and developed from Howard Schultz was, “The fundamental task is to achieve smallness while growing big”.

It almost sounds like a contradiction upon first glance. How does one actually go about achieving smallness? What does it look and how can it improve the culture of any company? How could it improve yours?

Behar relates one custom that became part of Starbucks culture. The writing of cards. Each month he would write birthday and anniversary cards to everyone in the organization. It started with about sixty cards a month. Behar says that by the time he retired he was sending out more than five hundred a month.

In a time when company culture and employee engagement are the buzzwords and people are trying to figure out what it means, is it possible that we are simply over thinking it?

Maybe it has nothing to do with how big we are thinking and the grand schemes and plans of making improvements. Is it possible that employee engagement and company culture is not working as it should because we are not thinking small enough?

At the end of the day here is what we must remember: it’s all about people. Call it company culture, employee engagement, call it whatever you wish- but it all boils down to people and how you make them feel. Do they feel appreciated? Do they feel valued? How are you showing it?

An article in Talent Culture revealed that employees who “feel valued by their employer are significantly more likely to be motivated to do their very best (93 percent vs. 33 percent).” In addition, it said that “those who do not feel valued are significantly more likely to seek new employment within 12 months (50 percent vs. 21 percent)”. Look within your organization. How many people are motivated to perform at their very best? How many people do you suppose are looking for new jobs?

Growing big and thinking small is not a mutually exclusive goal. But it will require intentional thinking and action on your part as a leader. Here are a few ways you will have to do it.

Think small relationally

It makes no difference if your vision or goals are big or small, it only comes into existence through the dedication and hard work of your people. Every leader should take the advice of John Maxwell who said, “Always touch a person’s heart before you ask for a hand.” You must connect relationally before you can ask people to help you reach your goals.They must first buy-in to you before you can expect them to buy-in to your vision.

Think small serving

It was a brilliant quote I still remember from the late Sam Walton who said, “The bigger we get the smaller we have to think, customers still walk in one at a time”. Whether it’s your employees whom you are serving or the customer base your organization caters to, the way you treat each individual makes a world of difference. Too often we worry about pleasing the masses and forget we still serve our employees and customers one at a time. If you do right by one, you will do right with many.

Think small growing

Intentional smallness is what Behar modeled by writing hundreds of cards a month. It happens with random acts of kindness in recognizing your people. It’s being intentional about building relationships. It’s about ensuring that your people feel valued, respected, empowered, and trusted. It’s about writing that card.

Growth begins to happens when you take care of building a powerful culture of smallness that gives you the momentum to become a big organization that held true to its most sacred values along the way.

Are you thinking small enough?

 

© 2017 Doug Dickerson

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About dougdickerson

I am an internationally recognized leadership speaker, columnist, and author. My books include: "Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders", "Great Leaders Wanted", "Leadership by the Numbers", and "It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move". I live outside beautiful Charleston, South Carolina.
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